American manufacturing needs to evolve to meet the challenges of the future. Manufacturing automation and robotics help to give US manufacturing companies the competitive edge they need to keep up with foreign competitors in locations with ultra-low-cost labor like Taiwan and China. However, many people assume that American manufacturing jobs are put at risk by the use of robotics and automation.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Marlin Steel CEO Drew Greenblatt discussed the impact of using robotics on US manufacturing jobs and the industry as a whole. Here are a few highlights from the interview:
The Role Robotics Play in American Manufacturing
When asked about Marlin Steel and the role that robotics play in the company, Marlin’s CEO responded that:
“We are optimistic—we’re growing and the job report reflects what we are seeing. We are using robotics and automation to help our employees be more productive, to be more viable making unique parts, patented parts that we can ship all over the world. It’s critical, robotics and automation is really empowering our employees to make more precision and also make more widgets per hour… we wouldn’t be productive, we wouldn’t be able to offer this line of novel, innovative products unless we had robotics.”
For US manufacturing companies like Marlin, robots don’t replace American workers, they supplement them. As much physical labor as these robotics solutions complete, they still need the input of human workers to optimize processes and make parts to fit client needs. Workers who were once losing fingers and eyes to sharpened pieces of metal springing unexpectedly under tension are now doing much safer and more cerebral design and programming work.
Why Does Marlin Steel Invest in Factory Automation?
During the interview, it was pointed out that, despite the extremely positive indications from the US Jobs Report from June 2019, there has been a, “Lack of investments globally by corporate [entities] amid the trade spat between the U.S. and China,” as one interviewer on the program put it. In response, Marlin’s CEO told Bloomberg that, “We invested over two million dollars in the last year. We just bought another press brake last month or two months ago.”
So, what gave Marlin Steel the motivation to invest so heavily in robotics and automation—and to do so while keeping all of its manufacturing capacity in the USA?
One reason is the company’s dedication to providing top-of-the-line custom wire and sheet metal forms to all of its clients. Using manufacturing robotics to assemble parts helps increase Marlin’s consistency and quality to levels that can’t be matched with manual labor.
Another reason is to increase Marlin’s speed of service. Marlin’s leadership wants to provide faster service to U.S. companies so Marlin Steel can trump the seasons-long lead times of foreign competitors. By using factory automation to maximize production speed—and then leveraging Baltimore’s shipping infrastructure—Marlin’s clients (especially those in the USA) can receive their custom baskets in a fraction of the time it would take foreign-made baskets to:
- Make it to a port;
- Complete outgoing product inspections and red tape;
- Wait for free space on an outgoing cargo ship headed for the U.S.;
- Be processed through customs; and
- Get shipped by a U.S. package carrier.
By being an American manufacturing business, with a factory in America, Marlin Steel can skip straight to the fifth step of the process, avoiding months of delays.
How Do Robotics Save American Jobs?
One of the concerns raised in the Bloomberg interview was the risk of robotics killing American jobs. During the interview, a statistic from a global report was cited that for every robot in a factory, between 1.3 and 2.2 jobs would be lost, depending on the average income for the area—poorer areas would see more jobs lost, while higher-income jobs would be less impacted.
Marlin’s CEO said this about the assumption that using factory automation automatically means fewer jobs: “I reject the conventional wisdom.” Even a manufacturing robot still needs someone to program it, keep it in working shape, and to monitor and inspect the quality of the parts it makes. People still need to design the parts that the machines make—which takes skilled and educated workers.
As a matter of fact, robotics and automation have actually saved jobs at Marlin Steel—not eliminated them. At a time when the company was struggling under the burdens of losing its core market (bagel companies that were devastated by the Atkins diet) and a flood of cheap competitor products from Chinese companies, Marlin’s leadership was faced with the decision to either close its doors or to struggle on.
After a fateful call from a Boeing engineer, Marlin’s CEO realized that there was a whole new market that could be tapped—but fulfilling this market’s needs would require a level of precision and quality that manual labor couldn’t meet. This is when Marlin Steel started investing in robotics and automation. The results saved the company from foreclosure—which preserved the jobs of Marlin’s employees.
Since then, Marlin has grown, adding more jobs for degreed mechanical engineers and providing opportunities for American workers to earn a wage that can support a family.
Marlin’s employees are proud to be American workers who use a combination of automation and education to make top-of-the-line products for the company’s customers. Learn more about Marlin Steel by contacting us today.